Categories
Environment

Getting Beyond Coal

Move UI Beyond Coal, near Jessup Hall on the University of Iowa Pentacrest. Photo by the Author on Nov. 16, 2011.

In 2019, the University of Iowa signed a 50-year contract for a consortium of private companies to operate their coal-fired power plant and more. They should have phased out the coal plant and initiated a plan to transition to alternatives to provide the electricity and steam required. No one was listening to any of the advocates for shuttering the plant. They hadn’t been listening for years. It was an inside deal in an increasingly less than transparent state government.

In return for a $1.2 billion cash payment to fund an endowment, the university assumed different responsibilities regarding the facility. The consortium attorneys contend they didn’t understand their role and did not meet contractual obligations, according to the lawsuit. For Pete’s sake, not even three years in and there is a lawsuit? Shaking my head.

In November 2011, there was a demonstration at Jessup Hall on the University of Iowa Pentacrest urging then president Sally Mason to cease operation of the coal-fired power plant. We delivered a petition to her office. There were speeches on the steps of Jessup Hall. I gave a speech, among others.

Our deeds that day fell on deaf ears.

I remember when mass mobilizations and demonstrations could accomplish positive things in society. The best example was in 1974 when we drove Richard Nixon to resign from office as president. Those days are no more.

Instead of making social progress, big money politics of a wealthy consortium wielded their power to make more money. Filing a lawsuit is just part of the deal, even if the details over which they are suing should have been clarified well before a signature was inked.

Because the state, and the board of regents, is involved, taxpayers will ultimately pay for the suit. That’s not the future we had hoped for when we advocated for the University of Iowa to go beyond coal.

Categories
Environment

Climate Slog Begins

Sky during a January tornado warning. Two tornadoes touched down in Iowa County, the first winter tornadoes in 56 years.

There is a lot of climate-related stuff going on in Iowa. The presumption that made Iowa an agricultural center is there would be enough naturally occurring rain in the growing season to support our major crops of corn, soybeans, and hay. I’m not sure where winter tornadoes fit in. On Jan. 16, two tornadoes were sighted near Williamsburg, Iowa, the first winter tornadoes in 56 years.

There is an ongoing drought about which some local buddies and I talked on Tuesday. Our discussion centered around good yields with drought resistant seeds, pivot irrigation rigs found near Marengo, and the need to protect the Silurian aquifer where our village well draws its water. We shouldn’t want to become like western Nebraska where they are drawing down the Ogallala aquifer. Things appear to be akilter as far as atmospheric moisture and precipitation goes. Corn and beans won’t grow without rain.

It is important for our government get involved with mitigating the effects of climate change. Doing something significant is beyond the power of a single citizen or community. I wrote our U.S. House Representative this week to encourage what she’s doing already.

Congratulations on being assigned to the Committee on Energy and Commerce and for providing some history of the committee’s work in your last newsletter.

I’m writing today to encourage your work on the House Conservative Climate Caucus. I also note your participation at COP 26 and COP 27. Thank you for engaging in one of the most important issues facing our society.

While you and I may not always agree on how to approach climate solutions, I believe the science will out. If anything, you have repeated you believe in science-based solutions. I agree with that wholeheartedly.

Good luck in the 118th Congress. I’ll write again if I have any more specific requests.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide feedback.

Email to Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks on Jan. 16, 2023.

If I hear back, I’ll post the response here. I’m not hopeful she or her office will respond, as they did not respond to my last email in 2022.

With Republicans assuming the reins of government in Iowa, everything about addressing the climate crisis will be a slog. Because political work to gain more climate friendly representation during the last three cycles proved futile, we have to make do what what we have. That means staying in tune with what’s going on in the atmosphere and spreading the word as it is revealed. It will not be super-sexy work, yet it is what is needed and climate action takes a back seat to tax cuts for the wealthy.

I have confidence we’ll slog through it no matter how difficult.

Categories
Living in Society

Winter Solstice 2022

Apple Trees in Winter

At the moment of winter solstice, I hope to be returning home for my day trip. About an hour or so later, the first local snow of the coming winter storm is expected to fall. After arriving home, I’ll bunker in for the duration. It is forecast to be a typical Iowa blizzard. Let’s hope it is that.

Solstice is in the pantheon of end of year family holidays that began last Sunday with our wedding anniversary. Following today, there is Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, a birthday, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. Normally the holiday season would extend to Super Bowl Sunday, yet I no longer pay attention to the sporting event. January 1 is the end of the holidays.

We more note the passing days than celebrate them. After our child left Iowa in 2007, we haven’t often spent Christmas together. We settled for visits during this extended holiday season when they were able to come.

Before I started school, ours was a religious home. I lived with Mother and Father and with or near my maternal grandmother. She brought devotion to the Catholic Church along from her native Minnesota. Although she is reputed to have been excommunicated over her second marriage, Christmas, and more particularly Easter, remained important.

Father was not a religious man. He left a King James Bible with his name embossed on it. He presumably got it in his youth. Inside there is a hand-written note of uncertain authorship that begins: “America’s Stake in the Christian Home is a Stake in Christ.” There is also a note saying, “98% of truly Christian homes never broken by divorce.” If he believed that, it would have complicated the close relationship between members of our three-generational home during the 1950s.

He began to get religion after graduating from the Palmer College of Chiropractic. If he began a practice, he would need clients. Joining the Catholic Church, where Mother and Grandmother were already well-embedded, was a way to network among the faithful. When I discussed conversion at age 40 with him, it was a utilitarian matter. He hoped to identify people with needs for chiropractic adjustments. Father didn’t live long enough to join the Catholic Church or pass the state boards and begin a practice. The parish pastor noted his intentions toward conversion during the eulogy at his funeral Mass.

I don’t recall an exact moment when I lost the Catholic religion. I remained reasonably faithful through graduation from a Catholic high school. While my church attendance was less frequent at university, my faith was there. The bishop accepted me for study for the priesthood after graduation. I did not pursue it. While serving in the U.S. Army I attended church when we were on field maneuvers. After my discharge, I recall attending Mass in the church where I was baptized and by then the divide had grown too wide to bridge.

From the time of the Roman Empire through today, people celebrated Winter Solstice in difference cultures. Parts of Saturnalia fit right in with the Western idea of December holidays. As mentioned, I note the day and hope for a safe return from today’s trip.

There will be a lot to consider during the blizzard. I’m ready with gasoline for the generator, an extra stock of water, and plenty of food.

Religion is more on my mind in December than in other months. In a conversation with the local Catholic priest during a random meeting on the state park trail, I asked about reconciliation. Based on our conversation, it will not be possible. I’m okay with that.

For today, there is the winter solstice.

Categories
Living in Society

Holiday Travel 2022

Winter Travel

Word is in from the news media-meteorological information trust that a significant Midwestern winter storm is brewing for the days leading into Christmas. Our family is splitting up for the holidays and have travel plans. Because we are retired and flexible, we will comply with the media overlords and travel Wednesday. If I were still working outside home, I would travel when schedules permit. Military service instructed me life goes on regardless of weather conditions.

It snowed overnight yet only a dusting remains. A half hour with a broom will clear what the sky dropped. I’ll wait until sunrise to get that chore done. Otherwise, there is plenty of indoors work to accomplish today.

The last time I was alone on Christmas was after my arrival in Mainz, Germany. While I was being processed into our battalion they were on field maneuvers until the last days before the holiday. When they returned, everyone hurried to be with family and I was left alone. By then, I was 18 months into being a regular journal writer/diarist. I used the time alone for reflection:

Personal Journal
25 December 1975
Mainz, West Germany
Christmas

I have just spent the last few minutes waiting for water to come to a boil on the stove for tea. While waiting, I skipped through this journal, stopping every so often and reading random pages. It seems that what I have written at other times is sufficiently removed from me to permit my pursuit of authorship of literature. This is good.
The things I have read also pain me at times. The thought of a past once present now changed into memories.
As I sit today, Christmas, before my desk, I will not forget, I cannot forget myself when I am writing -- it soothes me by its connection with the past, direct, like looking through the space that I have traveled from the eternal point of view. Sehr gut.
I sit down, spreading ink on paper and what yields it? Ink on my small and ring fingers and a touch with the past.

I’m looking forward to Wednesday’s trip and getting off property for a couple of hours. In deference to the weather, I’ll stop to provision on the trip home. I won’t like being separated from everyone, but at least we have free video conferencing… and, of course, social media. When there is a small family, that’s how it goes some years. I’m okay with it once in a while. Wouldn’t want to make it a holiday tradition, though.

Categories
Environment

Eschewing Avocados

Avocado from Mexico.

It is my minority opinion that avocados should be avoided in the United States. Don’t buy them, don’t eat them. The fruit has become popular, and because of it, Mexican growers can’t keep up with demand. This creates a problem.

To meet surging demand in the U.S., farmers in Mexico have cut down swaths of forest in the western state of Michoacán, one of the most important ecosystems in the country. By some estimates, as many as 20,000 acres of forest — the area of more than 15,000 American football fields — are cut down each year and replaced with avocado plantations. The rapid expansion of orchards will threaten forests in Mexico for years to come.

The bad news about your avocado habit by Benji Jones, Vox, Feb. 13, 2022.

Dishes like guacamole, avocado toast and smoothies taste delicious. Refined oil from the fruit is popular among foodies and nutritionists because of its unsaturated fats. By one estimate, sports fans eat through 105 million pounds of avocados on Super Bowl Sunday. The deforestation problem is directly related to such consumer demand.

The immediate catalyst for this post was a project to reduce my cookbook collection. I found many recipes for guacamole and felt we needed a reminder to moderate consumption and address the deforestation their popularity causes. I can hear long-time readers asking, “Didn’t you cover this before?” Yes, I did in the post titled, “Can Hipsters Stomach the Truth about Avocados from Mexico?” Not much has changed.

What can consumers do about deforestation which creates high-margin avocado plantations? Solutions are complicated. Ecosystem Marketplace outlines some of the challenges here. In the meanwhile, go light on the guacamole and avocado toast, and find another oil for cooking.

It is something we can do to contribute to efforts to solve the climate crisis.

Categories
Living in Society

Costs of Development

View of Trail Ridge Estates on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021.

SOLON, Iowa. — It is no surprise a year into development of Trail Ridge Estates by the Watts Group additional public costs are being identified. The first is environmental.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported yesterday the Watts Group was fined $3,000 by Iowa Department of Natural Resources for pumping construction runoff into a storm drain that leads to Lake Macbride. I note the Watts Group built the storm drain after developing what was previously a farm field. Such environmental pollution is part and parcel of a development this size. The lake is already feeling pressure from development and this additional loss of farmland has an impact. The matter was settled by the parties in a consent order signed Oct. 25.

What will cost more is the recently announced $25 million school bond expected to go to voters this spring. Trail Ridge Estates will contribute directly to area growth and the requirement for more classroom space in the school system.

The district, like the town of Solon, has seen a steady increase in enrollment since 2014, and anticipates planned housing developments — with another 500 new residential units — to bring additional families in to the district. Solon schools’ current enrollment is 1,450 and is expected to increase by about 350 to 750 students over the next 10 years, depending on how quickly new housing developments take shape.

Solon schools plan $25 million bond, Cedar Rapids Gazette, Nov. 28, 2022.

The farm field in development was planted mostly in corn and soybeans, so converting it into housing is no significant loss to the food system.

Trail Ridge Estates was annexed to the City of Solon and will contribute to significant growth, maybe 50 percent more than the 2020 U.S. Census count of 3,018. What may get missed in this news is the area is evolving from what it was when we moved here into something new: a more expensive, environmentally compromised place to live. While promoters of the bond issue say it won’t increase taxes, how can it not increase expense as the school system grows to match population? The district will eventually see increased costs as a result of this development.

We will welcome more information on the bond issue. I plan to study it closely yet will likely vote for the bond. Public schools are endemic to thriving communities and we want our nearby city to thrive.

Categories
Living in Society

Radio in the Hinterlands

Field corn.

When a person lives in Iowa it is hard to avoid noticing the harvest.

74 percent of Iowa soybeans and 38 percent of corn had been harvested as of Oct. 17. We are running a few days ahead of historical averages because it has been exceedingly dry. The entire state is experiencing drought conditions. I held off burning the brush pile because there is a Red Flag Warning, which means extreme fire conditions combined with high wind and low relative humidity. Everything is parched.

As I write this post on a Saturday afternoon, the ambient temperature is 78 degrees with a high of 82 expected in a couple of hours. The average high temperature here is 61 degrees in October. For Oct. 22, it is warm. One needn’t be a scientist to understand something is going on.

On Thursday I delivered my spouse to her sister’s place in Des Moines. We had a lot to talk about as we passed fields with farmers harvesting corn and beans. Between Williamsburg and Altoona, Interstate 80 is a hinterland of row crops, wind turbines and the detritus of retail establishments grown up to service a few locals, but mostly travelers. Towns and cities are hidden from sight.

On the way back, I turned on the car radio and began searching for channels. I avoided the religious stations and settled on a couple of country music and classic rock programs to help me make it back within range of my usual ones. From the ads, it became clear that Republicans dominate rural Iowa.

Governor Kim Reynolds has a substantial campaign war chest and attorney general candidate Brenna Bird just got a major donation from the Republican Attorneys General Association to defeat incumbent Tom Miller. These two Republicans have money to burn on their campaigns. The radio ads repeated during my trip. Whether any farmers were listening while running the combines and grain wagons, I don’t know. Republican messaging filled the vacuum left by Democrats.

To be effective, radio advertising must exist and be repetitive. In the Iowa hinterlands, it is the domain of statewide candidates and big money. Tom Miller was unlikely planning to spend millions on his campaign. Republicans are trying to buy an attorney general.

Our gubernatorial candidate, Deidre DeJear, simply doesn’t have the money for radio advertising even though it is cheap. My worry is her television advertising goes dark as we enter the last two weeks of the campaign, leaving Republicans the only voices heard there as well. During the primary, another Democratic candidate for governor dropped out of the race because he couldn’t get a meeting with major Democratic donors.

As the miles fell behind me the ads repeated. Running down President Biden and associating the Democratic candidates with him because of his unpopularity. Every sentence repeated was a pack of lies. When it is the only political voice rural people hear, it’s hard to stand up to it.

The election is in 17 days. Whatever the outcome, we have to do better to dig out of the hole we dug for ourselves. It’s possible, yet without the rural areas, I’m not sure how that happens.

Categories
Environment

Kitten Diversion

Warning on the Hoover Trail near Solon, Iowa.

I occasionally hike a section of the Hoover Trail that branches from the North Shore Trail along Lake Macbride. It is a longer walk and with fall weather, I seek to spend more time outdoors. It was perfect for a long Sunday walk.

A couple of gray kittens were sunning on dirt next to the trail. “What are you doing here?” I asked. It was half a mile or more to the nearest building.

They were not just born yet still very young. I talked to them, but didn’t touch them. If I had a bag or backpack with me, I would have picked them up, brought them home, and had them checked out by a local veterinarian. Lacking suitable cat transportation, I left them where I found them, hoping for the best.

The next day, my spouse and I discussed the kittens and decided if I could find them again I would bring them home for processing and potential domestication. That is, as pets. We decided they were not yet feral cats, because if they were, they would have hidden when they saw humans on the trail. Our fear was that someone dumped them, a common occurrence in rural Iowa.

Grabbing an old moving box, I put a couple of old towels and a pair of gloves in it and walked back to the spot. It is inaccessible by automobile and took a half hour or more to make it back.

I stopped by the benches and bike racks near the pond to cool down. The sound of birds was all around. There were squirrels, grasshoppers and other insects on a bright afternoon. It was peaceful and restful. The kittens were nowhere to be found. I will assume that is good news although was a little sad when I left. The lesson is to pay attention to one’s surroundings. I doubt bicyclists noticed the kittens while they sped by.

We seek to do good in life, yet sometimes it works out differently.

Rest stop on the Hoover Trail near Solon.
Categories
Sustainability

A Vision For the Future of Iowa Food Systems

Wilson’s Orchard

I worked for seven seasons at what is now Wilson’s Orchard and Farm near Iowa City. At the time it was mostly an apple orchard with seasonal imports of cherries, peaches, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries from other farms.

During the coronavirus pandemic they expanded their offerings and yesterday announced they bought a 115-acre farm near Des Moines as a further expansion of what is proving to be a successful local food concept.

The grand opening of the Des Moines farm is spring 2023 with the strawberry season. Paul Rasch, owner and grand poobah of the farm described his first strawberry crop in Iowa City to me as “money.”

I don’t know if the proposed transition is possible, yet it may be our best hope to break the cycle of growing row crops in Iowa. Wilson’s Orchard and Farm is an idea whose time has come.

Here is the announcement video released this week that describes Paul’s vision of an Iowa food system transformed.

Categories
Environment

Global Warming is Real

Drought-stressed corn crop in Cedar County, Iowa, 2012.

2022 has provided evidence in plain sight of the consequences of burning fossil fuels. The Greenland ice sheet is melting and expected to raise global sea levels by a foot. Such melting is already in motion and even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere today, it would have no effect on this destruction. A melting Greenland ice sheet cools the Northern Atlantic Ocean, which in turn slows the Atlantic Gulf Stream circulation and could lead to climate disruption on a massive scale.

From the American West to Europe to China, rivers are drying up. Our oceans are warming, causing fish and water-bound mammals to migrate to cooler places, disrupting fishing stocks. The upper Midwest is home to the largest global concentration of field corn. Continued high temperatures and lack of rainfall are expected to reduce yields. At $6.73 a bushel, corn is now roughly 50% above its 10-year average price.

None of this is good news. It is the truth.

In part, we got ourselves into this situation by ignoring scientists about the dangers of global warming. Here’s some more truth: President Lyndon Johnson, in a Feb. 8, 1965 special message to Congress, warned about build-up of carbon dioxide that scientists recognize today as the primary contributor to global warming.

“Air pollution is no longer confined to isolated places. This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through radioactive materials and a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.”

LBJ Presidential Library, speech on Feb. 8, 1965.

What’s a person to do?

There is little an individual can do. A solution will take governments addressing the physics of the issue at the highest level. It has become clear Republicans are the party of the fossil fuel industry and won’t take serious climate action. While some Democrats have fallen under the influence of fossil fuel interests and money, they were able to pass the Inflation Reduction Act which is the first legislation that addresses the climate crisis. We need more legislation to address the climate crisis, and that means electing more Democrats today.

The evidence of global warming is all around us. While everyone should get involved in what has become an obvious, global problem, the path forward in the United States is in retaining a Democratic controlled Congress and Executive Branch. No one wants to change their quality of life. However, life would be much better if we took action to control the changes caused by global warming by engaging in society.